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The Ampule Room

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PYRAMID – CORE CHAMBER
The vast central chamber of the pyramid. An immense space. Holloway walks in, his flashlight searching. Watts hurries after. The others follow, rovers tagging along.

A colossal structure stands in the center of the chamber, convoluted and strange. A mechanism. Chasms yawn in the floor all around it, their depths lost in darkness.
~ Alien: Engineers, by Jon Spaihts.

In the original script by Spaihts the ampule room did not appear. Instead the Magellan crew find the pyramid’s atmospheric processor. In his screenplay the chamber is more akin to a garden than the dark shrine that appears in the movie:

The core chamber brightens as the sun outside moves into alignment. The shaft of light perfectly centered.

A vast SIGH as if the pyramid itself is breathing.

A fat drop of water falls on Watts’s glove. She looks up in surprise. Another falls on her visor. And then it’s raining inside the pyramid. Water trickles into the chasms, inundating the mossy growths that cling to the walls.

Damon Lindelof’s Prometheus script removed the air processor and replaced the sequence with the ampule room. Notably, there is no giant head in the script (at least not in the version that leaked – there seems to be no ‘Ridleygrams’ of it either), though there is a wall of ampules, “rows and rows of them.” The room’s exposure to new air causes the ampules to ‘sweat’ as they do in the movie, but they also topple and pop open and shatter in the screenplay.

The room is described in Lindelof’s script as being “scaled for beings twice our size. It makes our heroes look like children.” The chamber also boasts “cathedral ceilings fifty feet above [them].” David shines a light on the roof, illuminating the Engineer artwork. “It’s a painting,” he says. “Not a painting,” Shaw objects, “it’s a fresco.” David wonders what the difference is. “Frescoes are in houses of worship,” she answers. Shaw’s reaction to the facility is laden with religious overtones in both scripts. Spaihts writes that “She holds her map unit as a pilgrim holds a bible: a guide in the darkness.”

“We can’t help but agree with her,” says the script, “this does feel somehow holy… like an alien Sistine Chapel.” For Holloway, the chamber evokes a very different feeling, that of “a laboratory” which houses “technology and equipment we have never seen before.”

Unfortunately, the crew’s entrance triggers the destruction of the Engineer art – “like the picture of Dorian Gray — exposure to the environment is literally dissolving it.”

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Before the film’s release it was stated that HR Giger had designed a set of frescoes for the film. Fans were understandably excited and subsequently confused when his artwork did not appear.

The exposure of the pyramid’s insect life to the mutagen is more dramatic in the script. “We see several small centipedes that came in from outside skittering away as the liquid washes over them.” These centipedes mutate into the Hammerpede creature. Worms replace the centipedes in the film.

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The monolithic head, once rumoured to be the pilot of the Juggernaut ship, seems to testify some sort of blank, terrible power. Whether it signifies a god, a particular Engineer, or the Engineer race as a whole, we don’t know. Before the film’s release the giant head was rumoured to pilot the ship, and was imagined by fans as being a living, bodiless and biomechanic intelligence – a sort of riff on the legless, sessile Space Jockey seen in Alien. In the film it instead silently looms over the ampules in a chamber described as both a vault and a chapel.

“The idea there is that it’s part of the culture of the Engineers,” said Arthur Max, not revealing too much, except to elaborate that the Engineers are “this race of interplanetary visitors who have given us upgrades –mentally and physically– over the millennium.”

The head is inscribed with glyphs on its front and sides. One idea thrown around production was to have the Engineers bearing facial tribal tattoos. The glyphs on the giant head resemble the alien language inscribed on the structure’s walls, doorways and on the deadly ampules.

Ethiopian statue of Benito Mussolini, and the Engineers' 'God-Head'. Testaments to power and worship. Mussolini was gunned down, hoisted to the girder of a garage, and his corpse pelted, shot, and spat on. As Percy Shelley wrote in his poem Ozymandias, great and terrible leaders die, and the monuments to their reign topple and crumble, left to gaze over a buried empire. The legacy of the Engineers has fared no better.

Ethiopian statue of Benito Mussolini, and the Engineers’ ‘God-Head’. Testaments to power and worship. Mussolini was gunned down, hoisted to the girder of a garage, and his corpse pelted, shot, and spat on. As Percy Shelley wrote in his poem Ozymandias, great and terrible leaders die, and the monuments to their reign topple and crumble, left to gaze over a buried empire. The legacy of the Engineers has fared no better.

The headquarters of Benito Mussolini and the Italian Fascist party, taken in Rome in 1930. The Engineer head monument is an allusion to worship and power, perhaps even fascistic power.

Billboard for the 1934 parliamentary election for Benito Mussolini and the Italian Fascist party, taken in Rome. The Engineer head monument is an allusion to worship and power, perhaps even fascistic power.

A giant head featured in John Boorman's Zardoz (1974).

A giant head featured in John Boorman’s Zardoz (1974). Zardoz, a godly being, teaches that human procreation is an evil, since it results in the propagation of man. War is good, since it cleanses the world of men. There is no direct correlation between Prometheus and Zardoz, but these common elements are intriguing enough to merit a mention.

One of the chamber’s more interesting elements is the Alien mural that lies at the far end of the vault, behind the Engineer head.

“Another set that I worked on was known as the ‘Head Room.’ This was a ceremonial room that contained hundreds of ampules beneath a giant sculpture of an Engineer’s head. Julian Caldrow did an amazing job of working out all of the details for this environment and created the set drawings. The final set was built at full scale and was incredible to walk on. I also sculpted an altar area for this set that paid homage to Giger – it is a relief sculpture hanging from the wall and has the impression of an alien form with flowing structures surrounding it. There are a lot of easter eggs in this sculpture – including several hidden Giger motifs that were not used in the original film.”
~ Steven Messing, i09.com, 2012.

Holloway notices a small altar before the Alien mural. Atop this altar is a jade crystal – in the film’s trailers the crystal does not appear. Instead, a bowl like the one the Sacrificial Engineer drinks from in the film’s opening takes its place.

The mural’s significance is not revealed in Prometheus, but Steven Messing mused that “[The Engineers are] a lot about sacrifice, so in my mind there was an Engineer [in the past] who sacrificed himself to this virus and it created this horrific creature. This being, that was gonna eradicate planets, was like a parasite that would destroy the planet and then [the Engineers] could start over and rebirth it. And they kind of worshipped it and you see this relief sculpture where it’s almost a religious sculpture.”

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